It’s because he understands that the real game that matters isn’t on the football field. After the upset playoff victory over the Steelers, Rick Reilly confesses that despite his initial doubts, he has become a believer:
Remember last week, when the world was pulling its hair out in the hour after Tebow had stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers with an 80-yard OT touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in the playoffs? And Twitter was exploding with 9,420 tweets about Tebow per second? When an ESPN poll was naming him the most popular athlete in America?
Tebow was spending that hour talking to 16-year-old Bailey Knaub about her 73 surgeries so far and what TV shows she likes.
“Here he’d just played the game of his life,” recalls Bailey’s mother, Kathy, of Loveland, Colo., “and the first thing he does after his press conference is come find Bailey and ask, ‘Did you get anything to eat?’ He acted like what he’d just done wasn’t anything, like it was all about Bailey.”
More than that, Tebow kept corralling people into the room for Bailey to meet. Hey, Demaryius, come in here a minute. Hey, Mr. Elway. Hey, Coach Fox. Even though sometimes-fatal Wegener’s granulomatosis has left Bailey with only one lung, the attention took her breath away.
“It was the best day of my life,” she emailed. “It was a bright star among very gloomy and difficult days. Tim Tebow gave me the greatest gift I could ever imagine. He gave me the strength for the future. I know now that I can face any obstacle placed in front of me. Tim taught me to never give up because at the end of the day, today might seem bleak but it can’t rain forever and tomorrow is a new day, with new promises.”
I read that email to Tebow, and he was honestly floored….
For the game at Buffalo, it was Charlottesville, Va., blue-chip high school QB Jacob Rainey, who lost his leg after a freak tackle in a scrimmage. Tebow threw three interceptions in that Buffalo game and the Broncos were crushed 40-14.
“He walked in and took a big sigh and said, ‘Well, that didn’t go as planned,'” Rainey remembers. “Where I’m from, people wonder how sincere and genuine he is. But I think he’s the most genuine person I’ve ever met.”
There’s not an ounce of artifice or phoniness or Hollywood in this kid Tebow, and I’ve looked everywhere for it.
How can you not admire that equanimity? “Well, that didn’t go as planned.” The fascinating thing about Tebow, the polarizing thing about Tebow, is that in much the same way as Jesus Christ, the radiance of his actions shines a light upon us and forces us to look ourselves and our own actions in comparison. And we react in different ways. We can be inspired and attempt to go forth and do likewise, we can simply admire him while remaining personally unmoved, or we can react with hatred and anger for the way in which he causes us to lose righteousness in our own eyes.
Tebow matters because our instinctive response to him tells us, and others, an awful lot about our hidden inner characters.
This is why a mere backup quarterback for the New York Jets, not even worthy of so much as a third-round draft pick, commands such attention. It is part of why a team with a chaotic coach and a dysfunctional locker room brought him on board. And whether he replaces the Sanchize for three Wildcat plays a game or as the starter, who isn’t looking forward to the upcoming season, where the success or failure of Peyton Manning in Denver will tell us a lot about whether it was the Denver defense that should have gotten the credit for the Broncos’ unexpected playoff run.
Speaking of Peyton Manning, Peter King provides a detailed chronicle of his decision-making process, which is fascinating in light of his otherwise inexplicable choice of Denver over a stronger San Francisco team.